Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Friday, August 27, 2010

Revision Report: Filling Holes

Flashbacks are great, right? Type a few snappy lines and voila--you can move ahead with your story.

Unless, you've used those snappy lines to avoid writing a key scene. I do this. In every single manuscript. Every single time I write a manuscript. Why? Key scenes are hard to write, especially when the characters brim with emotion, passion, and tension.

Sometimes writing those scenes makes me crabby.

Today I reached one of those unwritten key scenes. So, I put some towels in the dryer, soaked a few dishes, read a few blog entries, pulled chunks of hair off my shedding dog... And then I turned off the Internet, poured another cup of coffee, turned my music on loud, danced around a bit to Phoenix, pet the cat--and (finally) wrote my main character throwing a big, justifiable fit.

So why did I avoid this powerful scene in the first place? I wish I could say that I'm unfamiliar with the throwing of fits, but that, unfortunately, isn't true. I think I simply wanted to move on to easier writing.

Key scenes are difficult: you have to dig deep into the character, often looking into the darker, tantrum-throwing parts of yourself. You're balancing the right tone, character change, growth, opposition, creating and increasing tension... And I usually end up rewriting key scenes numerous times before I get them right.

So what's my strategy?

1. Make a list of physical sensations your characters might experience.

2. Brainstorm the setting--are there items in the setting that will amp up the tension in the scene? If not, maybe this scene needs a better setting? (Mine did!)

3. Think of a time when you've experienced similar emotions. Free write all those emotions, things you said, wish you'd said. Play with a variety of metaphors. Try a few lines in your character's voice. Don't judge anything you write, just go and go and go. See if the best bits will fit into your story. If not, at least you've gotten to that tension-filled emotional place.

4. Make yourself sit and write. Forget the dishes, the dog, that email that just dinged. It doesn't have to be a great scene right now. The important thing is to write something, anything...

Because there's always revision!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Exercise--Yes, That Kind

I've written about how I do daily writing exercises, but I also do daily physical exercise--because it's also good for my writing (and allows me to eat more chocolate).

First of all, I've noticed that the people sharing my genetic code who live the longest exercise. I have so many ideas to write about that I'm going to need to grow very old.

But I also get ideas while exercising. High school starts at an unreasonably early hour around here, so I see a lot of teens during my walk. Mostly they're driving too fast.

But yesterday I spotted a girl--hair beautifully straightened, cute outfit, bright book bag--and let's just say she was using an unique mode of transportation to get to school. I seriously had to stop myself from saying, "Thank you. You'll end up in a novel someday." But she got really, super embarrassed when she saw me. So I just smiled and tried my best not to laugh. I came home and wrote about her immediately.

I also find things when I walk. Today I found two nickels, four pennies, and three screws all bunched together--hmm--but yesterday I found a ski boot buckle and a heart pendant. Aha, I thought, time to buckle down and do what I love best: write.

And then I saw this:

My imagination wouldn't have combined an open jar of pickles next to the sidewalk. But I'd LOVE to know how it got there, so today I'm using this photo to prompt my daily writing exercise.

See? Exercise--of all kinds--really is good for you! Try it: what's the deal with these pickles?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Back To School Day. YAY!!!

Today my daughters headed off to school, wearing cute new outfits, backpacks filled with blank notebooks, sharp pencils, and new markers. I miss that fluttery first-day-of school feeling! And I wish it had to do with the anticipation about all that I would learn, but it really boiled down to: will I have a class with [insert crush-of-the-day here]?

I didn't need any supplies this year--I still have half a writing exercise notebook to fill, and if I look hard enough I will find the post-its buried on my desk. I can't justify new clothes either. But I did pick up a few fun things at the Craft Lake City Festival a week ago:

I couldn't resist this bookworm. He looks so cute peeking out from my bookshelves!

I also bought a funky girl to keep me company while my real girls are in school all day (Bonus: she's really quiet and never gets bored!).

My new owl (crocheted by my favorite bookstore Community Relations Manager) will remind me to make wise revision choices! Okay, he's cute--even cuter than all those crushes I used to have!
Hey, so maybe I do have a bit of that fluttery back-to-school feeling, and it's not just my adorable little owl--I'm excited to have my long writing days back! I know that I'll spend this year learning, reading, giving my characters fabulous crushes... And I'll do it all wearing my ratty old sweatpants!


Friday, August 20, 2010

SCBWI LA Tidbits (Part Two) + Giveaway!!!

Welcome to Part Two of my SCBWI LA conference tidbits. Don't miss the giveaway!

EB Lewis (illustrator of Coming On Home Soon): We need to fill ourselves to overflowing and then give it all back. I loved this, because it reminded me that we all need to take creative breaks--I've done that this summer. Lots of games, cupcake parties, matinee movies...

Rachel Vail (Lucky, Gorgeous, and Brilliant): Rachel talked about how she collects characters in the notebook she carries with her all the time. “Spying is the key to being a writer,” she said. She also said that it’s important to think about the things your character’s notice. What is your character’s perspective on the world? She also asks her characters a lot of questions before she begins the writing process. (See her website: www.rachelvail.com)

Later during her keynote, she talked about how middle-grade readers are at that moment in which they realize: my family is weird. “Life and death moments are a dime a dozen in 7th grade,” she said. We should all remember that intensity of changing so dramatically in front of the entire world.

Gail Carson Levine (Ella Enchanted): She told us to be patient with our ideas. “Plot arrives out of situation and character,” she said. And if a character is going to change the reader needs to understand why. “The reader will join you in adding complexity to your character if you show the way."

Later I attended Gail Carson Levine’s session about Infrequently Asked Questions. She had a lot of great things to say about writing from a male point-of-view, naming characters, setting, and revision. Many of her wonderful writing tips can be found on her blog: www.gailcarsonlevine.blogspot.com.

Gennifer Choldenko (Al Capone Does My Shirts): She talked about how kids may seem more sophisticated on the outside, but inside they’re the same as always. She always tries to get to the emotional core of her story. She told us not to be angry if our risks don’t pay off. “Learn and move on,” she advised.

I also loved how she talked about taking care of our writer self. After a weekend of sometimes conflicting writing advice, it was nice to hear that you have to see what works for you. “You have to feel yourself through the novel, not think your way through it. It has to come from your gut,” she said. “Don’t take yourself too seriously!” She also told us that kids deserve the best books that we can write. And it’s up to us to teach ourselves how to write.

Paul Fleischman (Whirligig): He talked about various organizational techniques that he uses when writing, like keeping lists of names and scenes. I loved it when he advised us to “weigh each word like it’s on a gang plank.” I'm doing that as I revise my current WIP.

The conference ended with an amazing presentation by illustrator Ashley Bryan. We recited poetry together (Langston Hughes!!!!) and it left me feeling grateful for a wonderful conference week--and inspired to make my writing the best it can be. I left LA, ready to go home, but first I stopped at Sprinkles so I could host an impromptu cupcake party when I returned to Utah. It's one of my favorite post-conference traditions! I've learned to get there right when they open so I don't have to wait in line. Mmm. Fresh, still sorta warm, cupcakes... I wish I could give you all Sprinkles cupcakes. Instead I asked Gail Carson Levine to sign a copy of Ella Enchanted for you!

To win the book, please a comment along with your contact information. Contest ends at midnight, Friday, August, 27, 2010. Open to anyone in the world!

Contest Winner!


Sidni M. won a signed copy of Carolyn Mackler's novel Guyaholic!
Didn't win? Watch for this week's SCBWI LA conference signed giveaway!

Friday, August 13, 2010

SCBWI LA Tidbits + Giveaway!!!

I had a great time at the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles. Since I'm a Regional Advisor, I arrived a couple of days early for meetings. The highlight was having dinner at the SCBWI Headquarters-such beautiful, cozy offices! And so many books!!! Here's a photo of Lin Oliver, one of the founders of SCBWI, in her office. Below you'll find Part One of my conference tidbits. Plus I'm doing a giveaway: a signed copy of Carolyn Mackler's Guyaholic. Just leave a comment!

MT Anderson (Feed, Octavian Nothing): In his keynote, MT Anderson told us to embrace our eccentricities. I loved that!

Later I attended his breakout session about experimental fiction. He showed us all the techniques used in One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss (oh, can he read a bedtime story!). He warned that experimental techniques—like footnotes in fiction—can be trying for readers in long novels, but used every now and then can be really effective. I'm excited to add some more adventurous touches to my own writing.

Jennifer Hunt (Editor, Little Brown): Jennifer said: Be smart about what kids like. Read the best books in your genre, but also study media outside of books—like TV shows (and she mentioned my favorite: Friday Night Lights--yes!). She also talked about developing a personal work philosophy that will help you strive toward excellence, telling the audience to, “Challenge yourself to develop your full potential.”

Gordon Korman (Pop, 39 Clues): He told us to find out what’s cool about a subject—picture a bored 11 year old asking, “Do I care about this?” He also advised us to try a lot of different stuff. I love that advice, because if I hadn't tried writing lots of different things I'd still be writing bad picture books.

Carolyn Mackler (The Earth, My Butt, & Other Big Round Things): She talked about how thorough research—interviewing teens, writing exercises, finding unique details—helps her create characters unlike any others. We did a fun writing exercise about what our character has hidden in his or her underwear drawer. Try it--you might be surprised!

Later Carolyn gave a wonderful keynote address, talking about how reading and writing helped her keep her sense of self in tact during tough school years. She described her journey as a writer, how some books came easy, others not so much, but “words will always ebb and flow." Regarding banned books, she told us that the worry is that some books will never be written, never read. I felt really inspired to write after listening to Carolyn!

And later I got a book signed by Carolyn Mackler--so I could give it to one of you!

If you'd like to win a signed copy of Guyaholic (one of my favorites), please leave a comment below. Drawing will take place on Friday, August 20, 2010.

Open to anyone in the world!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Holly Cupala's Tell Me A Secret Trailer Contest

If you enjoyed reading Holly's recent relationship advice, please check out her new book trailer contest:

Party Prizes! Here’s what people can win:

Signed TMAS books!
TMAS t-shirts!

Fan-made bracelets by Hannah S!
Music that inspired the book!
Sneak Previews!
Bookmarks and Handmade Magnets!


A Tell Me a Secret handmade necklace!

[I attached a graphic of the necklace, etc. to include if you want]

HOW TO WIN? Share the Trailer Love!

  1. Click here to go to YouTube, then click the Share button to send to your Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, or blog! 5 pts each
  2. Click here to tell us where you posted and enter to win!

Plus Holly will be featured at readergirlz for the entire month of August, with a live Twitter chat coming up! Hope you enjoy the trailer, and thank you so much for being part of the virtual tour and party!